- Written by Jenni Hampshire
What makes a corset, a corset? Jenni shares her basic six rules of "good" contemporary Victorian corsetry.
This artlicle illustrates precisely why people should sign up to FR. The information here is the type of in-depth stuff that seems simple on the surface but is hard won, and which has never (to my knowledge) until now been shared so succinctly in public even in the most comprehensive and standard texts. It's the sort of knowledge which enquirers know is 'out there' somewhere, but which is impossible to find because it resides in the brains of experienced corset makers who until now have either had no forum to discuss their in-depth findings, or who have kept the information cloaked under the 'trade-secret' blanket. This 'advanced basic' stuff therefore cuts out months, possibly years, of intense study along with head-scratching confusion and frustration because as usual, Jenni articulates her processes and ideas so perfectly that beginners can proceed with confidence, and seasoned corsetiers can get the information straight in their minds allowing head-space for further advancement.
Some exceptions if we stretch your dates to include Edwardian ones too.
1) No. I've heard a story the straight front corset was designed to make an actress look like a boy in a play!
2) No. Front lacing corsets were sold in Victorian & Edwardian times (can't remember the brand name of the former off-hand).
3) No. You mentioned Tricot fabric yourself, and gores may be cut on the bias.
4) No. Corsets were made to restrict the hips at times too, and not just in the early 20th Century. Restricting the lower ribs promotes a heaving chest.
5) No. Could have 2 layers of coutil with no waist tape. One piece eyelets & one steel were also used (interlining good to secure eyelets though).
6) No. Diagonal boning was also used. There is a patent for just diagonal boning: I am not sure if this went into production. Other boning materials were used besides metal - we are far too timid these days!
I find it hard to think of a SINGLE corset-making rule without an exception...
David, you are absolutely correct.
I've attempted to show that whilst there absolutely *is* an exception to every corsetry rule (hence my caveat on generalisations and brief mentions of some key exceptions), there are still basic principles which anyone new to the study of corsetry should become familiar with. These principles produce reliably good contemporary-Victorian corsets, which I believe is important for the beginner... to produce a few items with success so that their confidence/skills can grow unimpeded.
The point of the article is to strip away as many of the exceptions as possible and to give an easy-to-follow checklist (albeit intricately explained) as a starting point. I would never purport any rules to be 100% true as I don't believe it's possible and I have a strong desire to never say anything I can't stand behind indefinitely. I think I've made that clear here. But they are "true enough" that beginners would do well (in my opinion) to practice and master each.
I agree with David on this article. You shouldn't have made such generalizations . I think the article should be rewritten, keeping in mind that these are more suggestions than hard and fast rules. The first rule should suggest that a corset create a feminine silhouette, but that's not always the appropriate silhouette for every occasion. I'm a male corset wearer, and I wear corsets that accentuate a masculine figure. Honestly, a corset can be created to lend any shape to the wearer; masculine, feminine or something else completely. The second rule defies design possibilities. Many Elizabethan stays don't have a busk in the front. It is important for the front to be reinforced, but busks aren't necessary. For the third rule, I agree the fabric should be strong, but ribbon corsets and skeleton corsets won't fail instantly if done right. For rules 4 and 5, I agree. Rule 6, however is too general. Steels may not be right for every corset, especially those used for historical reenactments.
Hello Tyler, thank you for your comment.
If you re-read the article I hope you will see that I have actually been very careful to make it clear that we are working from basic generalisations and that these “rules” are simply guidelines/suggestions pertaining to one popular type of corsetry, not gospel that must always be obeyed. In short, the list is a basic summary for absolute beginners. The rest of the article must be read to put them in context for the more advanced student.
Here are a few statements that illustrate this.
Rules 1 and 2 only refer to typically Victorian corsetry: “Therefore , the archetypal Victorian-inspired contemporary corset [...] will be the style with which we learn about basic corset anatomy. I am also going to work under the assumption that we are discussing corsetry for women as it is the most common, and by narrowing the field we allow for the "rules" of good corsetry to be found more easily.”
Re: Rule 3: “We've seen many antique corsets that were made from remarkably fine fabrics, laces or ribbons” and “there are a myriad number of ways to approach this issue, and we each of us have our preferred seam constructions and so on.”
Re: Rule 6: “Personal preference accounts for a lot. You will ultimately learn to use as much or as little steel/cording/quilting as is required to support the cut of your corset to the desired effect.”
When I was asked to write basic beginners guidelines it was a challenge to do so in a way that could be distilled to a simple list (for absolute beginners) whilst also giving the caveats and information that would allow intermediate/advanced students to develop their own ideas. As stated in the conclusion, "Even when these rules/assumptions are discarded or turned on their head, the good corsetier/e is aware of their value as an excellent starting point."
To reiterate, these "rules" have never been intended as gospel. I hope that helps :-)